A Perspective on the Direction of Leadership Skills Training

I’ve been a trainer of some sort for most of my working life, first as an engineer and later as a management consultant. Some 20 years ago, after developing technical training for other engineers, I found myself grappling with the logistical problem of how to train our worldwide clients en masse without having them travel all the way to Vancouver.

eLearning was the answer, and notwithstanding the primitive tools available at the time, we made it work with a combination of documentation, code samples and PowerPoint animations. It was a roaring success as customers quickly got up to speed on our systems. Notwithstanding that I became bored programming without human interaction, the writing on the wall was clear – for a distributed audience, technical training was going to be done over the internet.

Fast forward to today: eLearning is mainstream, and people are largely accustomed to accessing free internet resources on Youtube to learn how to do a myriad of tasks. I constantly hear that soon all training will move to eLearning.

I also hear stories about clients who invest a lot of money in company-wide eLearning platforms, only to find that very few people use it.

What is going wrong, and what has happened to classroom training?

This question has a complex answer so I am going to try to simplify things and will specifically address leadership skills training of the type that Kwela delivers.

First, let’s review the different types of learners:

  • People who learn by watching / listening – these respond well to online video/audio courses, but quickly become disengaged with slides containing text and written exercises.
  • People who learn by reading / writing things – they prefer to interact through text versus images and sound.
  • People who learn by doing – it does not matter how much you show this group: until they have practiced a skill, they have not truly learned it.
  • Another difference worth considering is motivation and self-discipline. Learners vary between people who have both to people who have neither, as well as many who are too busy in the moment to stay focused on self-directed training.

My opinion (I always have lots of those!) are that there are actually at least 3 trends underway:


  • Most suitable for self-motivated people who learn by watching / listening / reading
  • Suitable for individual learners (vs. groups)
  • Works well with geographically separated audiences
  • Best for technical subjects
  • Less suited to the “learn by doing” learner and for teaching skills that require human interaction as compared to what can be achieved with classroom-based methods

Experiential Learning

By experiential learning I am referring to classroom-based, hands-on experience and practice using participant case studies and relevant simulations. I’m specifically not referring to “on the job” learning which I simply refer to as doing your job. Experiential learning is the “flight simulator” of skills training and is a best practice. In my opinion all classroom-based learning should strive to be experiential.

  • Is the most effective way to engage people who learn by doing and can still be readily structured to address other learning styles
  • Is an effective way to train a group of people
  • Is most suited to topics requiring human interaction, particularly leadership skills
  • Is problematic for geographically distributed groups that cannot be collocated for the purpose of training. While technological solutions such as videoconferencing help, it is still very difficult to create truly experiential training with groups that are not in the same physical space

Blended Learning

Blended learning is a combination of self-paced (eLearning style) activities, classroom training and follow-up activities. While not yet the norm, it is a trend that we see increasingly with many clients.

  • Results in the best overall training outcomes for self-motivated learners
  • The “sweet spot” for blended learning is for groups of self-selected, co-located learners (for example in ‘open enrollment’ settings)
  • For people who are less disciplined or self-motivated, compliance is often low on the self-directed activities which can reduce the effectiveness of the training

In summary, eLearning and experiential learning are quite opposite trends, each having a different sweet spot, while it is possible to combine some of the best features of both to create effective blended learning.

I would imagine that some of you may disagree with some of my points – feel free to let me know what you think.

Russel Horwitz, Principal